My strongest memory of canned beer lies in the land of macro: a 44-gallon plastic garbage can full of half-melted ice and red, white, and blue Pabst Blue Ribbon cans sitting in the Carolina spring sun in the back of a pick-up truck. To the right of the truck bed, I yell, “Pull!” and my law school buddy launches a blaze orange clay pigeon into the air with a hand thrower seconds before I shatter it with my Benelli 12-gauge shotgun. Don’t worry—the unwritten rule amongst the approximately 15 graduate students in the Pittsboro pasture that afternoon confined your duties to the thrower if you had opened a can. Most of us were law students, after all.
But today, aluminum cans are no longer the domain of solely macrobrewers. Since Oskar Blues Brewery paved the way for canned craft beer in November of 2002, an increasing number of brewers have adopted the convenient package. “The image of beer in cans has changed,” said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association, in June of last year. And Athens, Georgia-based Terrapin Beer Co. agrees.
On June 8, the brewery released RecreationAle, its first canned offering. The new year-round “hopped-up session ale” carries a low 4.7 percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) and falls in line with another recent trend among the beer-loving public—lower alcohol malted beverages. Going “light,” however, has been difficult to pull off for some craft brewers. They don’t use adjuncts, such as corn, to lighten their beers like the big boys, but having a reduced malt bill (and thus, a lower resulting ABV) makes yielding body and flavor a challenge.
Terrapin overcomes the obstacle with RecreationAle. Its generous use of hops—Bravo, Centennial, Zythos, and Amarillo—provide the familiar bitterness and citrus notes of a standard pale ale. But the beer shines because the brewery dry hops it with Galaxy, an Australian variety of hop used for its high alpha acids and its subtle tropical flavors with a hint of grassiness. I find RecreationAle gives off a bit of passion fruit, kiwi and papaya. Some other commercial examples of Galaxy can be found in Boston Beer Co.’s Samuel Adams Tasman Red, Anchorage Brewing Co.’s Galaxy White IPA, and Tallgrass Brewing Co.’s 8-Bit Pale Ale.
To celebrate its first canned beer and the convenience of the packaging for outdoor recreation, Terrapin released RecreationAle at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C. The brewery writes its new beer “is specially formulated to accompany you no matter where you may go; whether it’s the trails and rivers that call or just the hammock in the backyard.”
Though appropriately colored for the celebration of America’s independence this week, PBR cans won’t be making an appearance at my next experience involving gunpowder. I plan to enjoy the fireworks of the Fourth outside with Terrapin’s exciting foray into the world of all things canned and sessioned.
Win Bassett is a writer and lawyer in North Carolina. His work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlantic, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, Books & Culture, and The Rumpus. He previously served as executive director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild and secretary of the North American Guild of Beer Writers. He begins Yale Divinity School in the fall. Follow him on Twitter: @winbassett.